The Gathering

DSCN3534Many years ago I awoke and made ready for the day ahead. Spirits soared at the prospect of ascending the lofty ridge towering high above Glen Kingie. My heart leapt in anticipation of standing atop Sgurr Mor to survey the wild and piercingly beautiful handiwork that has emerged from the celestial crucible. A herd of deer leapt with me. Rugged mountains plunged breathlessly into the depths of shimmering sea lochs as the gulls swooped silently below my feet. From the sparkling, tumbling burn I could hear an orchestra of sound as sunlight shimmered and danced on its bustling surface to the ambrosial conductor’s quickening tempo. Isolation amidst raw beauty- wind; sun; rain; river; sea; mountain ridge; the silence of solitude. A time of rejuvenation; of communion with God; of self-discovery.

By the end of the week the silence felt louder than the shrieking winds that seemed to slice through rock itself. My senses were heightened- high mountain grasses thrust skywards like individual spears of rusty red and burnished gold; the cold and hunger made for unwelcome bedfellows; the imposing flanks of Sgurr Mor appeared as monstrous tidal waves looming through the gray and damp mists, threatening to engulf me as readily as the wild beauty was ready to consume me. I felt alive, joyful, and afraid in equal measure.

Following Ash Wednesday, we take those first tentative steps into the lenten journey. Each year as I look inwardly and outwardly, I am reminded again and again of that heady sensation of fear, of joy, and of life I experienced in the mountain wilderness. I bring on this path my successes and my failures, my joys and my sorrows. Every year that we gather we are each drawn, week by week, closer and closer, to our own high mountaintop and to the parapet of the Temple where we feel the tension as our own failings meet with the path Jesus has set out for us to follow. I am not yet ready to gaze upwards at that blood encrusted cross- but at this early stage of the journey I give thanks for the gift of life and the people in it with whom I share its glorious mysteries. And I thank God for the gift of the Church in holding love, grace and forgiveness as lanterns to guide us.

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Luke 4:11 NIV)


Just a little longer

‘So I can’t kill another sheep, and they ain’t giving no milk now,’ concluded Uri, sullenly.

Moses chewed on his finger-nail.  ‘You certainly can’t keep on killing sheep, no.  Surplus males, yes.  Ewes, no.  Have you another male you could kill?’

‘No, I’m down to the ten ewes and the one tup.’

Moses brightened slightly.  ‘Well, immediate problem solved, think.  Jerry was here an hour ago with the same problem – neither of you has more than a handful of ewes.  Why not kill one tup, share it and then use the other to breed both flocks of ewes?’

‘Because I would not trust that lying, misbegotten son of a recalcitrant hippopotamus if he was the only person left on earth,’ said Uri, showing the first splash of life he had offered in the conversation.

‘This is the borrowed cloak thing again, is it?’ asked Moses, punctiliously patient, wiping all colour from his voice. Uri nodded, and then began to wail: ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt? We had food there!  We ate meat, there was always fish, always water, we were so safe there …’

‘You were slaves!’ Moses could feel his grip on his patience failing by the moment.  ‘You just did what you were told.  And now you can choose what to do, it seems to me that all you want is to cheat each other, or do each other down, and moan and do no work.  Nobody, nobody will do anything, unless they are directly ordered to do it.  Everybody, everybody is looking for a way to make things easier for themselves, and, as far as I can see, preferably by making it harder for their neighbours.  For their ownpeople, Uri.’

Uri met anger with anger: ‘We should have died in Egypt – a quick death, a clean death.  Instead we have come here, and we are dying by inches.  We will die of hunger, suffering.  You have led us to our deaths.’

‘You are only a month of so out of Egypt – it will take you longer than that to die,’ flashed back Moses.  ‘Do you really think Yahweh will let you die of hunger?’  But he looked at the angry Uri and read his answer there.

‘And they really are hungry,’ he told Aaron as they walked in the first light of a new day, ‘and I see now that being slaves has totally destroyed their ability to think and act for themselves and the women have nearly forgotten how to weave and none of the men has a herd or flock of a decent size and they don’t know how to breed up sheep.  I caught several slaughtering the biggest sheep because there was more eating on them.’  He stopped, seeing the puzzlement on Aaron’s face.  ‘You eat the smallest, because you need the biggest to breed more big sheep.  Oh brother, you too!’  There was silence.  ‘I’m not up to this,’ said Moses, ‘and none of them are up to it either.  Just not ready for a new life.  If only we had more time.  If there was only something to eat we could take just a little longer to get to the Promised Land.’

They were walking round the camp to warm themselves after the bitter cold of night, because Moses would not sleep in a tent until he had managed to see all his people provided with one.  There was a wind blowing.  Moses was deep in gloom.  It was Aaron who picked up a few little threads from the ground.  ‘What’s this?’ he asked, curious, ‘you know the desert, bro.’

Moses looked at it, rubbed it in his fingers, looked around, began to pick up a thread here, one there, gathered a handful, and sat down and laughed until the tears came.  ‘Sorry, sorry’ he said, ‘it is just the relief, no no, I’ve not gone mad.  This, my brother, is time.  Yahweh has given us a gift to buy us time.  I should never, ever have doubted.  This is something which blows across the desert sometimes, and when it comes, it comes in abundance.  You get sick of eating it.  I am not sure what it is, exactly, my father-in-law simply called it food, you know, the Egyptian word is manu, I call it manna.  You can live on it for weeks.  This is time for the flocks to breed – time to shear them, to re-learn how to weave – for neighbours to learn to live together.  And the beauty of it is, it is in such tiny fragments and you need to gather quite a lot of it to live on it, a couple of pints each at least.  So everybody will need to work, to decide for themselves to pick it up.  Come on, we need to wake them all up, call them together, explain.  Yahweh has sent us the bread of heaven, and he has sent it by the bushel load, and then scattered it to make our lives difficult.  There really is no God like him!’

The journey

There is a Chinese Proverb which says:

It is good to have an end to journey towards,
but it is the journey that matters in the end.

We can’t live every day as if it was Easter. We have to go through Lent to get there.

40 days of burying the Alleluia means that we really ‘get it’ on the day when it is rung out joyfully.

So if the journey is starting to get to you, then remember that this journey is what matters in the end. Focus on the journey and don’t wish it away.